[by NYS prison inmate Jon Fontaine, temporarily housed in Monroe County Jail]
There’s more rats here than books, more drugs than books, more tobacco than books.
It’s literally easier to get bitten by a rat at the Monroe County Jail, smoke a cigarette, and get high to deal with whatever infection the rat gave you, than it is to find a book to read.
There’s no library, no book cart, no book requests allowed – nothing.
Inmates can only receive books if their loved ones order them from an outside vendor, and the books must be shipped to the inmate from that vendor.
I don’t know if the Monroe County Jail administration realizes this, but most of the inmates come from the poorest neighborhoods. Their loved ones can barely pay their taxes (Some of the highest in the country), let alone afford a computer and internet service to go on Amazon and order books.
In almost three weeks, I’ve come across two books. Oddly, both books looked like they’d been chewed.
Two books in three weeks is mindless torture for someone who normally reads two books in three days, doesn’t watch TV, and doesn’t play cards.
Other jails provide books.
It’s not a question of finances. In addition to being one of the highest taxed counties in the entire country, Monroe County shares in the profits from inmate commissary sales and inmate phone calls. This is nothing unusual. It’s common practice among jails to make money off inmates’ families. What is unusual is how expensive everything is at the Monroe County Jail.
A 1.7 ounce Degree deodorant that goes for $2 in a retail store is $4.79 here. A small bar of Irish Spring soap costs $1.25. A Ramen soup that normally costs 10-cents is 74-cents here. A standard size Snickers bar costs $1.29. A Walkman (remember those?) costs $35 here. At the Henrietta facility, inmates must buy a Walkman to hear the TV.
If your loved ones can’t afford books, they can’t afford a $35 radio for you to listen to the TV.
What’s an inmate to do to occupy their mind? Count rat droppings. Fight. Maybe call home. Well, the Monroe County Jail is raking in the money there, too: $3 for a 15-minute phone call.
In state prison, it’s only $1.50 for a 30-minute call. That makes Monroe County Jail phone calls four times more expensive.
Why compare jail calls to prison calls? Jail holds “pre-trial detainees;” people who have not been convicted. Some of them will leave with their innocence confirmed after trial; others will see their charges dropped entirely.
Yet, they are extorted financially for calls to their loved ones.
Inmates have limited options for taking their mind off their legal dramas. Books are a critical part of occupying an inmate’s time.
I never did get to finish my second book. Oh well, there’s always fighting, 15-minute phone calls for $3 a pop, and counting rat droppings to keep my mind occupied.
[Jon Fontaine is at the Monroe County Jail awaiting a hearing that Monroe County Court Judge Vincent Dinolfo wrongfully denied him four years ago.]
Also published on Medium.